Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wings and Fables

Some places you fit in, some places you don't.

I thought I'd try the revamped Mint Gastropub to see what it had to offer on a Monday evening.

Three children spread over two tables and a smattering of other occupied tables, it seemed.

Arriving just moments after happy hour was ending, the bartender graciously agreed to give me my Tiamo Pinot Grigio at the discounted rate.

Truth be told, it was only $1 off and it was only two minutes past happy hour, but it was a nice gesture.

It was pretty obvious that the couple next to me had arrived in plenty of time to avail themselves of cheap drinks.

He looked moderately loopy but she was over the top, leaning against the bar with her head in her hands, eyes closed and trying hard to listen to what he was saying.

I think he was putting on the full-court press, so I tried not to look.

Instead I switched my attention to the menu, looking to see what the new chef had come up with.

Since he's apparently a famous TV chef, not that I'd know since I have no TV, I was curious.

That and the fact that painted big on the outside of the restaurant was, "Mint Gastropub by Malcolm Mitchell."

No ego there.

I decided on the Mexican barbecue chicken wings with chipotle dipping sauce, checking first with the bartender to see if he recommended them.

"It's just the fat part of the drumstick, not the wing part," he explained. "But they're really good."

He was right, the drumettes were tasty- fat, smoky and medium-hot with green onion shavings over them.

As I was sucking my chicken bones, I found myself enjoying the music, a mix of indie artists like Grizzly Bear, Walk the Moon and Empire of the Sun.

It had to be Pandora, but I also had to know the starting point, so I asked.

Foster the People. Ouch.

Thankfully, the end results surpassed the starting point.

Wings and wine consumed, I left the children and drunks behind for greener pastures.

Tonight was the second installment of the Mingus Awareness Project and I knew I'd be right at home there.

Walking into Balliceaux, I was happy to see guest mixologist Bobby Kruger behind the front bar and stopped for a hug and a hello.

Paying the cover to support those with ALS, the whole point of the project, I got as far as the back stairs before the mass of humanity stopped me cold.

The Brian Jones quartet had just started playing and the joint was packed.

It turned out to be an excellent perch because I was four feet from drummer Brian Jones, as authoritative a drummer as this town has ever seen and a blast to watch.

Before long, Reggie of No BS Brass band, who'd performed last night, was standing next to me and pointed out that Jamal Millner was playing guitar and, as he said, "killin' it!"

He made his way down closer, next the drum kit and his own drummer, Lance, while I stayed put.

It was true about Jamal but the other guitarist, Adam Larrabee, whom I'd seen before, was doing his usual fret magic, too.

This was some serious guitar talent, not to mention the stellar Russell Pharr on upright bass.

The evocative "African Flower" was hands-down my favorite of what they played, moving and sensual at the same time.

Between songs, Brian, who'd organized the two-night event, said, "Thanks to No BS for playing last night," and gestured to Reggie and lance standing a couple of feet away. "They're the vultures over my shoulder."

After asking if anyone "has the chart for "Canon," the group launched into "Canon," for their last song, with Brian wryly observing, "It'll become apparent why this is called that."

Oh, it did.

When their all-too-short set ended, a lot of people headed outside, whether for smokes or air, I don't know, but I used the opportunity to get off the stairs and find a place to hang for the RVA Big band's upcoming set.

I immediately ran into a jazz lover, followed by a big band fan, followed by a friend I'd last seen coming out of a bathroom stall in Wanchese, North Carolina.

So everybody was there.

I was thrilled to see that Brian Jones was going to drum for the big band, a first, and that C-ville trumpeter John D'Earth was looming large in the back row.

Bandleader Ricky did his usual plug, reminding people, "I want you guys to clap or dance or whatever you want. You don't have to just watch."

Taking the 17-piece through Mingus classics like "Go Train," the band rose to the occasion, imbuing every song with an energy that would have made Mingus proud.

When they did "Fables of Taurus," at one point the band began doing a chorus of "ahs" and after "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," an audience member shouted out, "That shit is sick!"

Quite the jazz compliment.

When they got to "Moanin'" the crowd started interjecting "uhs," then people started clapping and before long, No BS drummer Lance was full on dancing as he continued to hover over drummer Brian's shoulder.

I don't think Lance could stop his feet.

Nor would Mingus or Ricky have wanted him to.

The rest of us were just bopping and swaying in place.

Oh,yea, I fit in much better here.

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